On December 1, 2019, the Lalabhai Contractor Stadium in Surat witnessed a bunch of men clad in Blue and Yellow jerseys running out onto the field, akin to how children often run out to their buses at the end of a day in school.
Needing to defend 13 runs off the final over, Krishnappa Gowtham gave away just 11 runs, setting off wild celebrations in the Karnataka camp. Courtesy of that win, Karnataka became the first team to successfully defend their title in the Syed Mushtaq Ali competition.
At the forefront of Karnataka's victorious campaign with the ball was then 26-year-old leg-spinner, Shreyas Gopal. Gopal spun a web around the batsmen and picked up 19 wickets from 12 matches, including a five-for against Services.
A little more than 13 months post that victorious campaign, Gopal will yet again shoulder the role of Karnataka's lead spinner when the 2021 Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy gets underway from January 10.
In an exclusive interview with Sportskeeda, the Karnataka spin-bowling all-rounder shed light on how he's using the quarantine period for self-assessment, the tricky campaign ahead and more. Full interview below -
Q. A bio-bubble in UAE to another bio-bubble in Bengaluru. How hard is it to adapt to such a lifestyle?
I'm kind of used to it, it’s okay, not too bad as long as you have good Wifi. I don't think it’s too hard, it was at first but now we’ve done it a few times. In IPL there were a lot of restrictions, so kind of used to it. It’s a good week to focus on yourself and develop mentally, one positive way of looking at it.
I’m sure a lot of them are playing FIFA and are connected to each other, but I’m not someone who plays games, I’ve never enjoyed playing video games. I love watching shows, listening to music and reading a book. I am happy in my own space, it’s a good time for me to self-prepare. We’re in the new year, we can write goals, write thoughts down and use the six days to understand where to be in six months or in a year’s time.
Q. The core of the Karnataka team from the victorious campaign last season remains almost the same, barring a few absentees. Will this factor work in Karnataka's favour?
Last year we had Mayank (Agarwal), (KL) Rahul and (Manish) Pandey. This year they won’t be playing, the guys who are getting an opportunity have been doing well over the past few years. This is the right time for them to put on their best performances and they’re raring to go. It’s going to be a young team, absolutely looking forward to it. We have a lot to play for, other teams will come hard at us, we need to be prepared and be at the top of our game to win matches.
Q. You were Karnataka’s highest wicket-taker last season with 19 wickets from 12 matches. Now that you’re also a familiar name in the IPL, all eyes will be on you. Do you relish such pressure?
It’s good if people are keeping an eye on me and trying to read me or study me, it gives me that much more importance. I think last year is gone, it’s a fresh start. We need to better the efforts, we can’t control the outcome but if the process and work ethic is right, it helps. It’s important that I stick to the basics and do my best. It’s been 2-3 years in the IPL, teams will start reading me so it’s important that I stay disciplined.
Q. You are coming into the Syed Mushtaq Ali 2021 tournament on the back of a fine performance in the KSCA T20 League, including a superb 7-wicket haul. On a personal level, how confident are you of putting on a good show?
Honestly very excited to be back playing cricket. Although we’ve been a part of IPL, a lot of our teammates haven’t played proper quality cricket in a while. YS Ramaswamy was a club tournament, great to be getting big wickets in terms of numbers, but it’s going to be a different ball game to play First-Class cricket. The standard of cricket triples and it’s not going to be that easy. We shouldn’t get carried away by one odd performance.
If I get a 7-for in the Syed Mushtaq Ali then it’s something to be happy about, but it is good to be amongst the wickets. I need to get back to my basics and my skills because we will play some top teams. International level players will be playing for the state teams. It will be a good competition between bat and ball.
Q. When compared to the 2019 season of the IPL, IPL 2020 was a rather underwhelming season for you. What went wrong, and what are some of the learnings you’re looking to apply in this tournament?
I don’t want to give any excuses, it won’t take me anywhere. I need to top my skill sets that much more when I come the next year. I didn’t do as well as I did in 2019, but you probably don’t see the same results every year. As long as your process is in the right direction, you have to base yourself on those and not the outcome, because it varies.
It’s important that I stick to the basics, that’s something that I always believe in. A lot of people have told me the result is not something I can control, but the process and work ethic and the effort in practice sessions is more important. The more you level that up in practice sessions, better are the chances of doing well in a competition.
Q. There’s a massive demand for all-rounders in recent times, and considering that you’re more than a capable batsman, can we see you slot in as a finisher for Karnataka this season?
I’ve put a lot of effort into my batting. I always started as a batsman, so I feel I have the basic skill with me. It’s just a matter of extension when it comes to white-ball cricket. I’ve been working on some unique shots and innovation to hit the ball into unique areas. So hopefully that comes into play and I can showcase that in this tournament. I’m very eager to be batting, I’ve always wanted to contribute in all three facets, it gives me a better chance to win matches for my team and that’s what drives me and pushes me to do better.
Q. Karnataka have been grouped alongside Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Railways, Tripura and Jammu & Kashmir in Group A. Which team do you think will pose the biggest challenge?
Obviously they are all coming in with a lot of experience. The teams are playing their best squads and it’s going to be hard to single out a team, our group is fairly strong. Having said that, UP and Punjab are strong on paper. If you look at T20 cricket as a whole, it is unpredictable.
Any team, on their day, can take away the game in 2-3 overs, we’ve seen that in the IPL and other leagues as well. It’s very important that we house some momentum in this format, it’s going to be a great competition, this group is really strong and everyone is very eager to be playing.
Q. Do you feel Karnataka have an early advantage, with all the group stage matches scheduled at Alur?
If you look at it, it's true that we’ve played a 100 matches, but as a matter of fact, other teams have played at least 50 matches on the Alur wicket. Everyone knows the kind of wicket we can expect in terms of ground dimensions. We do have an advantage because we’ve played that many more times but I think on that given day, it’s important that we understand the conditions. We have a little bit of an advantage but nothing too drastic, because crowds won’t be there to cheer us on but I think in general it will be great competition, and it won’t be unfair to any team.
Q. How's the feeling of being the defending champions influencing the atmosphere within the team?
Karnataka has always been a very good team. I think with the kind of work ethic everyone has, the other day the trainer was saying everyone was pushing to train, they want to get better at fitness. That eagerness and desire to do well and perform well is something great we have as a unit and so as long as that’s there, we will be heading in the right direction. We just need to go out there, back ourselves and play every single ball with our heart.Published 07 Jan 2021, 14:25 IST